If I Were In Charge: Revisit the Word of Wisdom (Including Obedience and Obesity)

by: Mike S

May 17, 2012

What is the Word of Wisdom?  From Mormon.org, we read that “our bodies are precious gifts from God.  We believe He has given us guidance about how best to take care of them.  He revealed a law of health, called the Word of Wisdom, to Joseph Smith in 1833.  The Word of Wisdom prohibits the drinking of alcohol, coffee and tea, and the use of tobacco…” It is called a “law of health”, and is generally seen as a list of prohibitions.  Since it was given in 1833, the Word of Wisdom has been reinterpreted a number of times.  But this leads to a question: Is our current interpretation still true to the canonized revelation, and is it primarily “law of health” as we claim?  Or are there figurative (and literal) elephants in the room that we don’t generally talk about – namely that the current interpretation is more about obedience than actual health, and that there are parts of the Word of Wisdom that we basically ignore with alarming consequences related to obesity?  And if these elephants are real, should we do like the Church has done over the years and consider reinterpreting the Word of Wisdom to bring it more in line with its original intention?

Obedience

The Word of Wisdom is now primarily about obedience rather than health.  In the canonized version of the Word of Wisdom, we read that it was sent as a “greeting; not by commandment or constraint, but by revelation and the word of wisdom” (D&C 89:2).  So, the original intent of the Word of Wisdom was to make some suggestions for health.  Various church leaders have given suggestions over the years, such as avoiding R-rated movies & bikinis, getting married and having children quickly, attending Seminary & Institute, wearing white shirts, etc.  Many suggestions we receive are good ideas for living a good life.  The big difference, however, is that not following those suggestions won’t keep you out of the temple or from participating in other ways.  Why is this?  Is the Word of Wisdom “more”?  Let’s examine some of the reasons:

Eternal Law

Is the Word of Wisdom inherently an eternal law?  No.  Examples supporting this are easy.  The first recorded miracle of Christ according to John 2 was to make wine, wine good enough to make the host wonder why it was held back.  Christ accepted wine enough that He incorporated it into the sacrament – the most meaningful ordinance to remember Him.  Nephites made and drank wine.  Joseph Smith drank wine with others to “refresh their spirits”.  There are many examples, but ultimately it is easy to see that the Word of Wisdom is not an eternal law, but just a temporary law.  Even Hugh Nibley taught as much when he said that “the Word of Wisdom doesn’t belong to the order of the eternal Gospel” in his commentary on D&C 89.

Health Law

So is the Word of Wisdom primarily a health law?  Not really, as least as far as its current interpretation.  Let’s look at the “Big Four”: Alcohol, coffee, tea and tobacco.

Tobacco is the easiest one.  It was described by Joseph Smith as being for the use of cattle and not for man.  And that’s proven true today as well.  There’s not really any study showing that tobacco has any real benefit, in any form.  So, with regard to tobacco, if we were primarily using the Word of Wisdom as a health law, we still wouldn’t use it.

Alcohol. We currently teach this as “not a drop”.  Some people don’t even use it in cooking.  But is alcohol bad for our health?  Yes and no.  Obviously, alcoholism in excess has a toll.  Alcoholism, drunk driving, etc. are all ills in society that have a cost on many levels.  But in moderation, a number of studies have shown that a glass of wine or two with dinner, or a beer or two each day can actually contribute to BETTER health.

Interestingly, this is how the Word of Wisdom was revealed to Joseph Smith and how he lived it himself.  According to the original Word of Wisdom, we SHOULD drink beer.  It states that barley is to be used “for mild drinks” (D&C 89:17), which was defined as beer in Joseph Smith’s time.  Wine was also allowed for the sacrament.  Given all this, the current “not a drop” interpretation of the Word of Wisdom is NOT necessarily for health reasons and is not how Joseph Smith interpreted or lived the Word of Wisdom.  It received a lot of reinterpretation around the time of Prohibition, when the apostles even stopped using wine in the temple for their weekly sacrament meeting, and never went back.  So, with regard to alcohol, if we were using the Word of Wisdom as a health law, beer and wine in moderation and/or for the sacrament would be fine.  Strong drinks (ie. distilled spirits) would still be avoided.

Coffee and tea. This is a murky area, as the Word of Wisdom defines only “hot drinks”.  But what does this really mean?  Is iced tea bad?  How about Diet Coke?  Or hot chocolate?  What about mate?  What about camilla tea?  How about a hot chicken broth?  Green tea, white tea, rooibos tea?  How about thing things made from the coffee bean and the tea plant?  What about caffeine extracted from the coffee bean and put into Diet Coke?  Is decaffeinated coffee still bad?  Coffee flavored ice cream?  Monster or Red Bull or Rockstar?  Mountain Dew?  How about chocolate and the caffeine in that?  Heber C Kimball interpreted “hot drinks” to include hot chocolate and cocoa as things we should avoid.  Was he right?

And what, if any of this, is actually based on health?  Obviously, if someone drinks caffeine (or anything else) in excess it is not good for them, but what about in moderation?  The fact is that 90% of the world’s population consumes caffeine in some form or another, and this would likely include a similarly high proportion among LDS members.  Populations that drink tea are among some of the longest living in the world.  Coffee has also been shown in a number of studies to be positively related to health when consumed in moderation.  And, in reality, a cup of tea or coffee is better for you than the calories and chemicals in the soda (diet AND sugared) we currently drink as Mormons. So, with regards to coffee and tea, if we were using the Word of Wisdom as a health code, coffee and tea in moderation would be fine.

Back to Obedience

So, since the Word of Wisdom is not an eternal part of the gospel, and since it’s only loosely related to being a law of health (as least as far as the “Big Four” are concerned), what is the point?  Again from Mormon.org, we read that “The Things we do and don’t consume are some of the most visible markers of our faith.” Others have previously argued that as polygamy was abolished and no longer served as a visible marker, the Word of Wisdom was reinterpreted to help serve as this marker.  And ultimately, it basically comes down to obedience – just to see if we’ll do it.

Back in college, I was in a fraternity.  As a pledge, there were certain things that we had to do, many of which seemed to have no logical sense whatsoever (and they still don’t).  From the outside, some of the rules seemed kind of dumb, so people would ask why I did them.  I explained that I wanted to be in the fraternity, and they were requirements.  No one was forcing me to become a member of the fraternity, but if I wanted to join, there were certain things I had to do.

I look at things like the Word of Wisdom in a similar fashion.  Do I really think that drinking a Diet Coke with all its artificial ingredients is better for me than drinking a cup of black coffee?  Absolutely not.  Do I really think that not having a glass of wine with dinner is better for me than having a glass of wine with dinner?  Absolutely not.  But I follow these rules anyway – not that I think they are for my health, but because they are part of the current requirements to “be Mormon”.  The interpretations of the Word of Wisdom have changed in the past; they’ll change in the future; but since they are what they are for now, I’ll follow the current interpretation merely out of obedience.

Obesity

And now to the even bigger elephant in the room, literally and figuratively – obesity.  We are literally eating ourselves to death, yet we completely ignore the parts of the Word of Wisdom that address this.

For example, consider D&C 89:12-13 where we read about meat: “… flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly; and it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.” Yea, we pretty much ignore that. We don’t generally eat meat sparingly.  We don’t use it only in times of winter or cold or famine.  And yet because we want to eat meat, we argue about the placement of commas in what is a pretty clear statement.  These verses are certainly more clear than our extrapolations of other verses.

The Word of Wisdom also talks about herbs and grains.  It talks about a healthy diet.  As above, this even includes using barley for “mild drinks”, which is beer.  Yet we also ignore this fairly straightforward statement and currently interpret beer to be against the Word of Wisdom.

Is Obesity Really a Problem? (Or I just have fat genes)

We know that eating a well-balanced diet high in grains, fruits and vegetables, with minimal meat is healthy.  It is described in the Word of Wisdom.  But are we, as a people, following it?  Consider the following graphs of obesity trends in the United States over the past 20 years or so.  This is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  If you want to see the complete, moving trend, here is a link to the map.  It’s stunning.

Maps

As clearly seen in these maps, we as a people have become obese, and it is killing us. We go from light blue, where < 10% of a given state is obese to dark red, where >30% of a given state is obese.  This all occurred since I graduated from high school, so the genetics in this country haven’t really changed that much.  This really represents lifestyle changes.

There are a number of arguments about WHY these trends have occurred: access to nutritious food, sedentary lifestyle, hormones in meat, pre-processed food, overconsumption of meat, etc.  But whatever the cause, they trend is alarmingly real.  So what is obesity doing to us as a country?  Here are some facts from a recently released report by the National Institutes of Health:

  • Obesity costs the United States alone $190 BILLION extra in medical costs, or 21% of all medical spending.  This raises the premiums on EVERYONE to pay for the obese.  We’ve shown that “second-hand smoke” has costs.  So does obesity.  Incidentally, this amount is also enough to solve the “uninsured” problem.  We could give EVERYONE insurance in the country for $190 billion.
  • We use nearly 1 BILLION more gallons of gas each year than if we made the same number of trips and weighed what we did in the 1960’s.  So, obesity is increasing our dependence on some pretty despotic countries.
  • Obesity increases type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, some cancers, gout and sleep apnea.  It leads to arthritis, knee and hip replacement, back disease and other orthopedic problems.  These have very real impacts on people’s lives in morbidity, as well as those family members who have to take care of them.
  • The health care costs of obesity are higher than those of tobacco.
  • 27% of the nation’s young adults aged 18-24 are ineligible to serve in the military because they weigh too much
  • Obese people are, on average, less productive, have more restricted activities at work and have more work absenteeism.  This accounts for an estimated $450 BILLION in indirect costs in lost efficiencies.  So, obesity is robbing our employers and driving costs up as well.
  • Etc.

There are a number of other facts in the report, but there is no denying that this is a big problem.  Granted, some people have diseases or other conditions that lead to this.  Other people talk about having “fat genes”.  In reality, however, our genetics as a country haven’t changed significantly since the 1980’s, yet the obesity trends are alarming.  It is diet and lifestyle.  I don’t say all this to offend anyone, but we need to call a spade a spade.  These are all facts.

Obesity and the Word of Wisdom

So, what does this have to do with the Word of Wisdom?  The Word of Wisdom talks at least as much about diet, meat, grains, etc. as it does about the “Big Four”, yet we basically ignore those verses.  We bill the Word of Wisdom as a “law of health”, but don’t want to talk about obesity, a very real threat to health and something specifically addressed in the Word of Wisdom. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if someone has never had a drop of alcohol – if they are 80# overweight, can they really “run and not be weary” or “walk and not faint”?  Why do we ignore plain parts of the Word of Wisdom concerning diet, yet extrapolate other parts well past what science has shown is healthy.  Again, are we really talking about health, or are we talking about obedience?

Granted, it is very hard to lose weight.  But it is also very hard to quit smoking.  We ask people to quit smoking as a part of our religion’s health law.  If we’re going to be so strict on this, shouldn’t we also ask people to lose weight?  Shouldn’t that also be a valid part of our religion’s health law.  If we keep people out of the temple for not following one part of D&C 89, shouldn’t we keep them out for not following other parts?  Does consistency matter?

So, given all this, If I Were In Charge, I Would Revisit the Word of Wisdom:

I would truly make it focus on health. I would incorporate medical advances over the past decades and update our interpretation of D&C 89.  We don’t really follow it how early Church leaders follow it anyway, so there is precedent for reinterpreting it – even without changing the actual canonized words.  If we were honest, we’d admit that drinking a glass of red wine each day or coffee in moderation is not harmful, and is actually beneficial.  We’d still limit tobacco, as there’s no real benefit shown to that.

I would make it consistent. Does it really make any sense that a morbidly obese 350# man who ignores the part about eating meat sparingly can go to the temple because he feels he is following our “law of health” when a healthy person who actually follows the part about drinking a “mild barley drink” (ie. beer) cannot?

I would once again make it a suggestion. I wouldn’t keep someone out of the temple for drinking a glass of wine, for eating too much meat, for drinking a cup of coffee, for weighing too much and not being able to run or walk, or anything else.  I’d consider the Word of Wisdom a suggestion, but not a commandment.

I would make it focus on moderation. Some food is ok, too much is bad.  A glass of wine is ok, too much is bad.  A sparing amount of meat is ok, too much is bad.  Some coffee is ok, too much is bad.

And this is what I would do if I were in charge.  These may sound like radical things, but that is only in the context of our generation.  In reality, it is not really proposing anything different than how Joseph Smith lived the Word of Wisdom, and he is the one through whom the section was given.  He drank wine and beer and coffee, but in moderation.  He wasn’t obese.  He likely ate meat sparingly.  He treated this as a suggestion for healthy living, but focused on more important things.

Perhaps Joseph Smith really knew something and WE have drifted away.  Perhaps God knew what he was saying when He revealed D&C 89, and we are not receiving all of the blessings possible because we’re not really following what He revealed in our canonized scriptures.

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Questions:

  • Do you think the current interpretation of the Word of Wisdom is more about health or is it more about obedience?
  • If it is about health, should we revisit the Word of Wisdom and interpret it according to actual health guidelines?  Or are health studies meaningless to the Word of Wisdom?  Or do we only accept the results of studies that support our current practices and reject the rest as “bad science”?
  • If our goal is about health, and if the Word of Wisdom specifically talks about diet (ie. meat, grains, etc), should we start including a maximum BMI in the temple recommend interview?
  • Should the Word of Wisdom be a suggestion as revealed to Joseph Smith in our canonized scripture, or should it be a requirement as interpreted by other Church leaders?
  • Do you think obesity is a problem?  Is diet and weight for health reasons something the Church should address?  If so, how should they do that?  If not, why not and how is that different than a cup of coffee or a glass of wine?
  • Someday, we are told that we will drink wine with Christ (D&C 27:5 – where he said “for the hour cometh that I will drink of the fruit of the vine with you on the earth, and with Moroni…”.  Wouldn’t it be strange if no Mormons would drink with Him because they “weren’t supposed to drink wine”?

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NOTE: This post is one in a larger series of posts entitled “If I Were In Charge:”  If this post interests you, or if you are interested in seeing any of the other posts in the series, here is an Overview and Topical Guide.  For other posts, click on Mike S to the right —>

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93 Responses to If I Were In Charge: Revisit the Word of Wisdom (Including Obedience and Obesity)

  1. hawkgrrrl on May 17, 2012 at 1:57 AM

    If we put as many restrictions on obesity as we do on homosexuality, people would either get fit or there would be nobody left! Can you imagine hearing a talk addressing the “obese lifestyle” or talking to people about no longer succumbing to their base desires for cheesecake and pie?

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  2. anonlds on May 17, 2012 at 3:04 AM

    The reason the church has overweight people is because they eat too much grain in the form of refined flour, not because they eat too much meat.

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  3. kramer on May 17, 2012 at 5:25 AM

    Tonight I will thank God that you are not in charge of the church.

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  4. Stephen Marsh on May 17, 2012 at 6:04 AM

    “the Word of Wisdom defines only “hot drinks”. ” — which had a specific cultural meaning at the time.

    The temperance movement at the time is part of the back drop to the Word of Wisdom, as much as chewing tobacco in the upper room.

    The word of wisdom took off as cigarettes changed from mini-cigars to a form that had the tobacco cured differently (and is what makes them much, much more addictive and much more dangerous). Before that at BYU (for example) there was only social disapproval for smoking.

    I think you make an excellent point about boundary markers — just as God gave a number to the Israelites before Christ in the law of Moses. Your changes would destroy all the boundary markers. I’m not sure that is a good thing at all. There is huge value in having them.

    Obesity is an interesting topic. http://garytaubes.com/2012/03/science-pseudoscience-nutritional-epidemiology-and-meat/ and Taubes writing in general is well worth a read.

    I’m all for small beer, as it is known (or, in the modern parlance “near beer”) as a mild barley drink for those who can stomach it. It still fits within the Word of Wisdom too.

    Anyway, some interesting points. Still, I’m not for allowing the occasional cigar after dinner, a little coffee, a little wine and revisiting the debates about where the comma fits and what it means in regards to meat — though it is always fun to add in the warning in the Bible about those who are “forbidding to marry and commanding to abstain from meat” …

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  5. Mike S on May 17, 2012 at 6:09 AM

    hawk and kramer:

    I’m not stating that we should actually restrict people based on body weight – that would be a terrible idea. But putting it in context for the sake of this post, is it worth restricting people who might have a cup of coffee here and there because it’s “unhealthy” and therefore against the Word of Wisdom. It’s really saying the same thing.

    As in the points at the bottom of the post, I would make ALL of these things suggestions rather than requirements, including obesity. But, just because we as a country don’t like to talk about obesity doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about it. So, I would talk about that too. I do every day with my patients when they ask why their knees are worn out.

    If we, as a Church, are going to have a “health law”, suggestion or not, to leave out the obesity epidemic doesn’t make any sense to me.

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  6. Stephen Marsh on May 17, 2012 at 6:09 AM

    Perhaps the “forbidding to marry” part should have been in the last post’s comments ;)

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  7. Mike S on May 17, 2012 at 6:10 AM

    #3 kramer:

    I, too, thank God I am not in charge of the Church as well. So we’re in agreement there.

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  8. well on May 17, 2012 at 6:45 AM

    if i were in charge of a church, i wouldnt put any exclusionary health laws on my members.

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  9. Paul on May 17, 2012 at 7:17 AM

    From the OP: “The Word of Wisdom talks at least as much about diet, meat, grains, etc. as it does about the “Big Four”, yet we basically ignore those verses.”

    If by “ignore” you mean we do not include them in the temple recommend interview, then I suppose you’re right. (Although the text of the interview question is about following the Word of Wisdom, without qualifiers.)

    If by “ignore” you mean we never talk about them, then I guess I have a little problem with that analysis. Yes, LDS people are fat just like the rest of the population is fat.

    But if by “ignore” you mean we do not teach healthy diets, then I disagree — even the website you reference highlights that we should eat a moderate and well-balanced diet, including eating meat in moderation. Same with the Gospel Principles manual and the For The Strength of Youth pamphlet.

    I agree most with your initial analysis, however: we keep the word of wisdom in its present incantation out of obedience so that we can belong to the organization to which we want to belong.

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  10. hawkgrrrl on May 17, 2012 at 7:49 AM

    A couple more serious thoughts about the WoW. I do think some of its being a requirements is “membership dues” like your fraternity example. I also have wondered if there is a PR component. It would be unseemly for the saints to be smokers (which is also rude to non-smokers) or getting in drunk driving accidents. As to coffee and tea, I often wonder if that was originally to reduce the expense of these costly items (they were costly when they had to be imported to the frontier).

    As to obesity, if no Mormons were obese, that might be attractive to potential converts (a missionary tool). However, I agree with anonlds that people are obese because of too many carbs (esp refined flours and sugars) rather than too much meat (although some could certainly cut back there too). The WoW as originally written was for those who worked the land outdoors, farmers, not people sitting on office chairs working at a keyboard. Less meat is good, but the carbs we eat should match the carbs we need.

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  11. Troth Everyman on May 17, 2012 at 7:57 AM

    The comments about obesity being primarily caused by carb intake rather than meat intake actually lend further credence to Mike’s contention that the WOW needs to be reinterpreted. The discussion on grains should mimic the discussion about meat…eat grains in moderation. Overall, it is another example of how the WOW is culture bound. IMO, our culture seems to have changed enough to warrant another reinterpretation.

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  12. I Dwell In A Tent on May 17, 2012 at 7:58 AM

    Just because the question is asked “Do you keep the word of widsom?” it doesn’t mean a negative response will keep you from receiving a temple recommend. The problem with moderation is there is no bright line. A couple of beers to one person is not the same as a margherita every day to another. Maybe one day God will see fit to allow a bit more exercise of agency in this area, as there are different commands for different people at different times. I’m comfortable leaving the WOW as is and getting back to a renewed emphasis on healthy eating and exercise. (There used to be an exercise challenge in the old Activities handbook.)

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  13. Eric on May 17, 2012 at 8:23 AM

    While I agree with the original post in principle — it would make more sense to promote healthy living rather than some arbitrary rules — I wouldn’t want to see our prohibition on alcohol change. Rather than suggesting that abstinence from alcohol is strictly for health, I’d like to see some emphasis on the minor sacrifice of not drinking as a benefit for the weakest among us; alcohol abuse is such a serious problem in our culture that I can see a good argument for us as a people avoiding it entirely.

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  14. Will on May 17, 2012 at 8:26 AM

    Mike S,

    I liked and agreed with your post in general, but as usual don’t see eye to eye on some issues.

    First off, I would hardly classify cows, fish and chickens as beasts. They are a good source of protein and a solution to the obesity ills in our society. America’s expanding waist line stems from an over consumption of simple carbohydrates , chiefly junk food, but also ‘enriched’ breads, pastas and rice ; juxtaposed with a lack of weight lifting (aerobic exercise does little to lose weight) and artificial sweeteners. There is little nutritional difference between a Twinkie and a slice of white bread with jelly.

    My advice would be to invest heavily in Merck and other producers of insulin (or other oral forms such as Janumet) along with makers of glucose testing devices and strips. Given the over consumption of simple carbohydrates, Type II diabetes is going to explode. Make financial hay off these fatties while you can. The skid-marks and gas stemming from the yeast and bacteria from too much sugar weren’t enough of a deterrent; but the thought of limb amputation or blindness will be. All told, invest heavily in diabetes bandaids while the getting is good.

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  15. Mike S on May 17, 2012 at 8:28 AM

    #2 anonlds
    #9 Paul
    #10 hawk
    #11 troth:

    I absolutely agree that simply eating less meat and more carbs is NOT the answer. It is much more complex than that. As Hawk mentioned, the WofW was written for farmers, for active people, for people in the 1800’s. That is why I would revisit it today in light of more modern understandings.

    Given this, regarding some of the various things you’ve mentioned:

    – Alcohol: Drinking 1-2 drinks a day (red wine / beer / etc) has been shown to be beneficial to your health when compared to people who don’t drink. So some alcohol is good. Obviously too much is bad. There will always be people who have a hard time with this and drink too much, but I would still teach moderation. And, importantly, I wouldn’t keep someone from the temple or other blessings based on if they did/didn’t drink.

    – Food & obesity: Same here. Food is also important for our health. But people also have a problem with moderation here as well, as evidenced by the obesity facts above. This is a huge problem. There are more obese people in this country than alcoholics. Obesity has very real costs – economically, physically, emotionally, etc., even higher than alcohol. Yet we don’t keep people out of the temple who are struggling there. So I would treat this the same as alcohol. Give suggestions; encourage moderation; yet not let someone’s struggles with weight interfere with their relationship with God.

    – Coffee / tea: Again, multiple studies show that there are actual health benefits to moderate use of coffee and tea. Tea drinkers are some of the longest living people in the world. Just like above, moderation is the key here too. Too much caffeine is bad, just like the people even in the Church who drink too much caffeinated soda. And coffee is certainly more healthy than that soda. So I would teach moderation and not let someone’s use of hot caffeine rather than cold caffeine keep them from the temple.

    – Tobacco: This one is easy. There’s not use for tobacco, really anywhere. It does actually SAVE health care costs, ironically, because the increased expenditures on their health care are more than offset by reduced life expectancy. But I would still counsel against it. At the same time, however, I wouldn’t let someone struggling here let that interfere with their relationship with God.

    So, I agree with comments above. The WofW was written for the 1800’s. It would be worth revisiting it in light of modern information. If we are serious about making it a “health code”, let’s incorporate “health information” into it. Teach moderation. Teach healthy practices. But certainly don’t let it interfere with someone’s relationship with God. There are much more important things to worry about.

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  16. Mike S on May 17, 2012 at 8:33 AM

    Addendum to #15:

    I was recently back in Washington DC talking to our Senators and Representatives about health care issues. Given those discussions, as well as last week’s report on obesity, changes are coming.

    Now that data is available and it awareness has been raised, it won’t be long before insurance premiums are pro-rated on BMI, just like they are for smokers. Employers and others are going to make very real decisions based on weight.

    It would be really cool if the Church were proactive about all of this. We should truly come up with a “health law” based on “health principles”. I would provide resources for health. We do it for porn and genealogy and alcohol addiction and humanitarian and whatever. Let’s have a WofW that actually makes sense. And let’s provide help.

    Let interested people be called to help with diet tips. Cooking classes. Food purchasing cooperation. Exercise programs. The possibilities are endless.

    Don’t shun people because they might drink a glass of wine or a cup of coffee or be obese or whatever. The gospel is so much more than that. Let’s be proactive, rather than reactive.

    Just my opinion.

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  17. Paul on May 17, 2012 at 8:37 AM

    #14 Will: “aerobic exercise does little to lose weight…” Huh? Aerobic exercise is a calorie burner. Reduce your calories (from whatever source) and increase your calorie burn (however you can), and as long as you burn more calories than you take in, you’ll lose weight.

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  18. Mike S on May 17, 2012 at 8:40 AM

    #4 Stephen: Your changes would destroy all the boundary markers. I’m not sure that is a good thing at all. There is huge value in having them.

    #10 hawk: I do think some of its being a requirements is “membership dues” like your fraternity example. I also have wondered if there is a PR component

    I do think this is the primary reason for the current interpretation of D&C 89. There are some obvious advantages to having “boundary markers”. But at the same time there are very real costs.

    – How many members don’t come to Church because they feel “inadequate” because they like their cup of coffee?

    – How many of our Primary children and youth look at someone who smokes or has a beer as a “bad person” because of things they’ve picked up in our church meetings?

    – How many people might otherwise join the Church, who have a hard time understanding why drinking the same glass of wine that Christ did will now interfere with their relationship with Christ?

    – How many people have a hard time describing to someone why we forbid tea (that long-living people in other places drink) as against a “health code”?

    So, while there are some advantages to having the strict guidelines, there are also very real disadvantages.

    In today’s world, there are lots of ways people feel they can get a relationship with Christ. I would hope they could find that in the LDS Church. Adding more and more hurdles to that happening doesn’t make any sense to me.

    Certainly talk about these things. Certainly encourage moderation. Certainly help people who may have gone past the point of moderation with any of these things. But don’t let it interfere with their relationship with God.

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  19. Will on May 17, 2012 at 8:47 AM

    Paul,

    A metabolism is like a fire, it needs three things to keep going – heat, fuel and oxygen, you stop one of these out and you will douse the fire. As for metabolism, muscle requires five times more oxygen than fat – five times. Weight lifting is the best way to develop muscle. Likewise, proteins and complex (non-starchy) carbohydrates are the best fuel for muscle development.

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  20. ji on May 17, 2012 at 8:54 AM

    The Word of Wisdom’s primary purpose, as originally introduced and likely still today, is neither for obedience or health. Rather, it is for protection. See D&C v. 4, which is commonly overlooked in discussions of the Word of Wisdom:

    Behold, verily, thus saith the Lord unto you: In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation—

    Not to test our obedience — not to improve our health…

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  21. hawkgrrrl on May 17, 2012 at 9:15 AM

    “Tea drinkers are some of the longest living people in the world.” I wonder how much of this is due to other lifestyle factors, though (e.g. Asians who are big tea drinkers also walk everywhere, are generally non-aggressive and practice tai chi). Correlation doesn’t equal causation. I’m not saying it’s NOT the tea, just that I’m not convinced tea (other than green tea) has health benefits.

    Even the health benefits of alcohol, IMO, are overstated. There’s evidence that eating red & purple grapes or drinking grape juice has the same benefit and doesn’t contribute to alcoholism.

    Having said all that, I don’t really care whether people drink it or don’t. But I do think many people who do drink alcohol create a mental separation between themselves and the church in doing so. You can’t take it lightly with our current setup.

    Updating the code to be health-oriented is a great idea IMO. I would love for us to be truly healthier than the rest of the world. Somewhere along the lines, our plates got heaped up with a few extra helpings of funeral potatoes. Something got off course.

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  22. Stephen M (Ethesis) on May 17, 2012 at 9:22 AM

    Well, the “health advantages” of wine are the same, but less, as that for grape juice.

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  23. Stephen M (Ethesis) on May 17, 2012 at 9:28 AM

    Looks like hawk and I posted on the grape issue at the same time.

    But, ever since I saw caffeine added to orange juice and root beer, I have had issues with “conspiring men” — and would note that the WoW was a warm and forewarn situation.

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  24. Howard on May 17, 2012 at 10:07 AM

    The WoW as it is interrupted and practiced today is an example of the pharisaical nature of the modern church. A greeting not a commandment or constraint was turned into the law with portions redefined and followed to the letter ignoring the spirit in which it was given. I drank beer in moderation for many years before returning to the church, when I stopped drinking my HDL’s fell from 58 to 44 a 14 point drop! What justifies this health sacrifice?

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  25. Jenkins on May 17, 2012 at 11:58 AM

    For me the biggest problem with the Word of Wisdom as constituted today is that it does not promote wisdom. There is a feeling that as long as you ‘obey’ the major ‘don’ts’ then you are going to be healthy. The thinking has been done and I obey what my leaders say so I should be blessed for it.

    I would like to see the church be less constrictive and also encourage it’s members to use wisdom when consuming. Is it okay to drink a Monster drink? Well, it’s not stipulated in the Word of Wisdom, however, if you used half a brain you would realize that it is horrible for your body. But I think it needs to extend to medication we take. The doctor may prescribe some drug but we also need to use our wisdom to decide if it is actually healthy for us.

    There is also this idea that has crept into our culture that anything that causes any alteration to our mental state is immediately bad for you. If you feel good after drinking a couple of beers that is somehow sinful. Why wouldn’t God want us to feel good and according to the Word of Wisdom mild drinks from barley are good for you so God evidently doesn’t have a problem with the feeling of euphoria associated with a mild buzz.

    I’m also a big proponent for marijuana use. I think it would be good and healthy for most people to use it. It’s one of the safest ‘drugs’ you could ever take and it makes you feel great. Not to mention all the health benefits one can receive.

    I guess I would like to see the church encouraging members to use wisdom to think for themselves and not just trust television, pharmaceutical companies, government, etc. to help them make good consumption decisions.

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  26. Remlap on May 17, 2012 at 1:12 PM

    Obesity is more of a choice than homosexuality is

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  27. Mike S on May 17, 2012 at 1:22 PM

    Sorry I haven’t responded to many of the comments this morning – there have been some really great points that I want to follow-up on. I’m in the middle of a busy clinic day.

    Ironically, I’ve spent the morning talking to people about knee replacements. They have all been overweight. One is so overweight that it will take a while to sort out the diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, etc. before we can even consider a surgery. And these are ALL caused by the fact she weighs over 300#.

    Interesting factoid related to that: if you are obese, your chance of a knee replacement is 4-5x higher than if you weren’t. If you are morbidly obese, your chance of a knee replacement is 35x higher. NOT percent, TIMES. This all keeps me in business, but I would rather be preventing all this rather than operating on it.

    And because I live in Utah, the vast majority of my patients are LDS and would consider themselves in compliance with our “health code” because they don’t drink coffee or whatever. They still can’t run or walk, and are taking lists and lists of medications.

    It’s frustrating.

    Anyway. More later when I have more time.

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  28. Mike S on May 17, 2012 at 1:27 PM

    #25 Jenkins:

    I actually wrote a post on medical marijuana and the Word of Wisdom if you’re interested. Here’s a link to the post.

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  29. Frank Pellett on May 17, 2012 at 2:40 PM

    Isnt part of the reason for allowing mild alcoholic drinks and wine (as long as you made them yourselves) partially because of the lack of clean, drinkable water at the time?

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  30. ascentury on May 17, 2012 at 2:41 PM

    From a historical standpoint, it seems like even though many of the leadership of the church may not have been on board with Heber Grant’s teetotalitarianism (such as Stephen L Richards, David O. McKay, and Spencer W. Kimball, although the last is later), there isn’t really a way to backpedal on decisions like that. If the church goes hard one way, it takes an enormous expenditure of personal/political/ecclesiastical capital to swing it a different way, and you know that some people would be shaken by the change. As it is, I allow myself the indulgence of fermented alcohol I have made myself and simply state that I am obeying the word of wisdom, as I am. Just not the popular misinterpretation of it.

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  31. mh on May 17, 2012 at 7:52 PM

    I am working on a follow up post on the word of wisdom. there is an article in the journal of mormon history that states that early mormons (1833-1843) abstained from all of the same substances as our modern interpretation (i suspect this may surprise some people) with the exception that wine was used for the sacrament, and it was felt that alcohol was ok for medical uses.

    with that said (and I will follow up with more details in a few days) I wonder if mormons used wine for the sacrament would be considered moderation and might include the health benefits that mike mentions. mike?

    as for obesity, in the 1970s, the nixon administration decided to over-produce corn as a means to bring down food prices. it worked, but the obesity epidemic corresponds to the increase in corn production. corn is used to not only make beef (hamburgers) but corn syrup used in soft drinks. could it be that the obesity epidemic mike referred to has a lot to do with corn consumption that we partake of in fast food and soft drinks? would it be a wiser course of action to remove corn subsidies and give farmers subsidies to produce broccoli, carrots, and apples? in other words, how much of the obesity epidemic is a result of cheap corn, cheep fast food that is indirectly subsidized by corn subsidies?

    would you eat healthier if mcdonalds was more expensive, but vegetables were cheaper?

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  32. Ender2k on May 17, 2012 at 9:17 PM

    Re: #21, 22

    Health benefits of moderate consumption of alcohol are not limited to wine (and the antioxidants that you can also get from grapes). See this article for a good review of the research on the health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption (requires a subscription—may be available through your local library:

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1097/01.ALC.0000128382.79375.B6/abstract

    Some extracts:

    “In numerous studies— cross-sectional, longitudinal, cohort, case-control, individual, and meta-analysis—differing considerably in their adjustments for confounding risk factors, the data on CHD-related death are remarkably consistent: the relationship between alcohol consumption and mortality follows a J-shaped or U-shaped curve, with one to four drinks daily significantly reducing risk and five or more drinks daily significantly increasing risk (Booyse and Parks, 2001; Corrao et al., 2000; Hines and Rimm, 2001; Murray et al., 2002; Perret et al., 2002; Rehm et al., 2001, 2003; Rimm, 2000; Rotondo et al., 2001). This inverse association between light to moderate alcohol consumption and CHD morbidity and mortality had been demonstrated independent of age, sex, smoking habits, and BMI.”

    “The observed cardioprotective effect of moderate alcohol consumption may be related to alcohol-induced changes in lipids, lipoproteins, fibrinogen and insulin resistance, and to other unknown mechanisms or combinations of mechanisms. Approximately 50% of the reduction in risk has been attributed to moderate alcohol-induced increases in HDL cholesterol (e.g., De Oliveira e Silva et al., 2000; Gronbaek, 2002; Sillanaukee et al., 2000; van der Gaag et al., 2001).”

    “Furthermore, as described in the beginning of this report, the relationship between moderate alcohol consumption and disease outcome is confounded and modified by numerous individual differences—age, sex, genetic susceptibility, metabolic rate, comorbid conditions, lifestyle factors, and patterns of consumption, just to name a few. Protective and detrimental levels of alcohol consumption cannot be generalized across the population but instead should be determined by an individual in consultation with her or his physician.”

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  33. Jon on May 17, 2012 at 11:26 PM

    I see this mess with the WoW as something that happens with most organizations, the longer they stay around the more bureaucratic they become and the more rules there are that are invented.

    A couple of good papers on the history of the WoW and how they became a commandment:

    The Word of Wisdom:From Principle to Requirement

    History of Word of Wisdom Became+Commandment

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  34. Jon on May 17, 2012 at 11:31 PM

    My sis-in-law has an interesting interpretation of the grains part of the WoW. Read “staff of life” and think, easily storable for long periods and, therefore, can keep one alive in times of famine, etc. So grains are necessarily good for the body but good for when food isn’t plentiful (like fruits and vegetables).

    It is interesting to not that both the raw vegans and the primal diet both experience similar results in their diets, more vitality, clearer mind, weight loss, etc. Whatever works for you, I suppose I still like the grain since I’m about 20 lbs over what I should be :\

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  35. Bonnie on May 17, 2012 at 11:37 PM

    Oh, SO much to say. Having spent 25+ years in naturopathic work, I have to say, the WOW is completely misunderstood and misused. Let’s start with the promise: to run and not be weary and to walk and not faint. That means that running (literally and metaphorically) and walking (literally and metaphorically) are important things to do. Completely ignored.

    Don’t EVEN get me started on corn, the USDA, FDA, or the Nixon administration. Or Merck or Monsanto (sorry, didn’t mean to use foul language online) or hormone-laced meat/dairy (cough cough *conspiring men* cough cough). Can we talk about the political machinations that replaced incredibly healthy coconut oils with soy? No, I can’t. My blood pressure can’t stand it, and I have very healthy blood pressure.

    One quibble: activity is more important than weight, recent studies abound. Cholesterol is dangerous when you refuse to run or walk, weary or not. Much of the hoopla about the “obesity epidemic” is the ick-factor people feel about obese people, plain and simple. Shape is the new wealth, and I think it’s more important to help people eat healthy and move than to prescribe a BMI (another of those “don’t get me starteds.”) Certainly, activity is more important in terms of health, disease-resistance, and longevity. People with low BMI are actually less healthy than people with similarly high BMI. Okay, I’m stopping before I tell someone I like to bite a wall.

    The WOW diet is fabulous! If we eat fruits and vegetables in season, moderately, adding healing herbs and occasional grains, meat during the winter when we build back, we live in harmony with the rhythms of the earth. Don’t go calling me a flower child – it works. More importantly, it brings us into harmony and gratitude for all life forms, vegetative, animal, and other human, and helps us perceive a life of shared stewardship over resources.

    Is it a law of obedience? It’s the most beautiful kind! It’s a suggestion! If you want to have the wellspring of power that it promises, you live it more fully (have you noticed the repetition in sacred liturgy? – not an accident.) Failing to understand it doesn’t preclude even temple worship. It’s just a question on the interview to stimulate conversation! Sigh.

    Great post. Except for the parts where I slapped my head. But I understand how having knee replacement conversations could definitely stimulate that conversation.

    And can I say that there is a huge emotional/psychological component to obesity? In poverty alleviation I especially have seen this and it must be addressed. Food is security in our culture (and in most) and when so many parts of your life are out of your control, it is going to be an uphill battle to limit food. It really scares me when people start talking, as they are, about making BMI a public issue when we aren’t addressing all the causes.

    But that’s another post altogether. Nice, Mike. I enjoyed the adrenaline burst and the mental workout!

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  36. Jon on May 17, 2012 at 11:38 PM

    The WoW becoming a commandment is the classic case of:

    We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.

    I don’t think there is anything nefarious in President Grant’s commitment to prohibition but I think the quote still applies. It applies to those who wish to have drug prohibition in this modern age as well. I don’t think Grant is bad or evil because of his actions, I just think it is natural for all men when they gain power to work their power in ways that are contrary to the Laws of God.

    I am really grateful that President Joseph F Smith (I think it was him, it’s been a while since I read those papers I cited – it was the one that was a vegetarian) didn’t get what he wanted either, to ban meet from the saints, that would have been bad, I like meat, I don’t eat a lot of it since my wife is a former strict vegan (yes, I corrupted her). Which is probably a good thing.

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  37. Jon on May 17, 2012 at 11:42 PM

    Banning certain substances may have the effect of creating solidarity in the membership but it does have the consequences which are bad, as mentioned in previous comments. Some of which are the keeping people out of the church that otherwise would join, making people feel guilty for something that isn’t inherently bad, putting one more tick mark in the questioning of the veracity of the church.

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  38. Jon on May 17, 2012 at 11:48 PM

    Bonnie,

    Failing to understand it doesn’t preclude even temple worship. It’s just a question on the interview to stimulate conversation!

    I find that hard to believe since it definitely keeps people from being baptized. I would think it would also keep people from entering the temple.

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  39. Bonnie on May 17, 2012 at 11:54 PM

    Jon, very much a local phenomenon. Bishops have a pretty wide range of personal beliefs, and those take over in the interview. Isn’t it interesting how very local our experience is? That could be seen as a weakness of our theology or a triumph of our lay ministry. It’s probably paradoxically both. I embrace a view that the interview is a conversation and we have a part to play in working with the PH leader there, just as the Lord engages us in conversations of the Zenos type. If it becomes authoritarian, who is held eternally accountable? Fascinating to consider that the ultimate judgment is ONLY with Jesus Christ.

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  40. Jon on May 18, 2012 at 12:20 AM

    Bonnie,

    I believe that on the my mission one had to abstain from the list. I find it interesting that once you get into the church the list wouldn’t matter so much depending on who’s your bishop.

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  41. Jon on May 18, 2012 at 12:22 AM

    For any one interested, the blog Pure Mormonism just posted a post on the WoW and unrighteous dominion. Of course, he goes into great length and detail on the subject with modern day correlaries (sp). Pretty fascinating:

    http://puremormonism.blogspot.com/2012/05/over-ruling-jesus.html

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  42. Stephen Marsh on May 18, 2012 at 6:33 AM

    o we do a randomized-controlled trial. Take as many people as we can afford, randomize them into two groups — one that eats a lot of red meat and bacon, one that eats a lot of vegetables and whole grains and pulses-and very little red meat and bacon — and see what happens. These experiments have effectively been done. They’re the trials that compare Atkins-like diets to other more conventional weight loss diets — AHA Step 1 diets, Mediterranean diets, Zone diets, Ornish diets, etc. These conventional weight loss diets tend to restrict meat consumption to different extents because they restrict fat and/or saturated fat consumption and meat has a lot of fat and saturated fat in it. Ornish’s diet is the extreme example. And when these experiments have been done, the meat-rich, bacon-rich Atkins diet almost invariably comes out ahead, not just in weight loss but also in heart disease and diabetes risk factors. I discuss this in detail in chapter 18 of Why We Get Fat, ”The Nature of a Healthy Diet.” The Stanford A TO Z Study is a good example of these experiments. Over the course of the experiment — two years in this case — the subjects randomized to the Atkins-like meat- and bacon-heavy diet were healthier. That’s what we want to know.

    FYI from the science writer I cited to above.

    As for wine drinking, if you aren’t eating table grapes (which provide the same benefits, with less calories and with a lower glycemic index) then you aren’t ingesting for the health benefits.

    Same if you aren’t drinking small or near beer …

    Finally, boundary markers increase commitment, community and cohesion. Having them, and having entry requirements increases the value of membership for people who are entering.

    In general it helps people to have them.

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  43. Howard on May 18, 2012 at 8:14 AM

    Stephen wrote: As for wine drinking, if you aren’t eating table grapes (which provide the same benefits, with less calories and with a lower glycemic index) then you aren’t ingesting for the health benefits.. This statement appears to ignore the benefits of alcohol in moderation or did you mean eating grapes in addition to drinking wine?

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  44. Bonnie on May 18, 2012 at 8:19 AM

    Stephen, fascinating thought about WOW functioning as a rite of passage into the community. I can see that and I think laying something on the altar is a powerful cohesive influence, price=value. Like many things, if that is its intent, I think it could be employed more effectively if everyone knew that was the intent.

    Jon, my experience is that for many people, local bishops are the single greatest influence in a less seasoned member’s experience. I think that valuates the bishop role, and the risk (that I think is worth taking) is that they won’t be perfect. Same risk for parenting. We could say, “what was God thinking,” or we could acknowledge that the atonement is a pretty powerful thing.

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  45. Bonnie on May 18, 2012 at 8:33 AM

    #16Mike – just to throw a wrench in the discussion, that used to be one of the functions of RS. Then we shifted to supporting more doctrinal things (which I don’t think was a bad addition at all) but we lost the health focus in RS (as well as many other worthwhile focuses/focii). Suggest now that women be the guardians of the health of their families and you’ll be pelted with fish sticks.

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  46. Mike S on May 18, 2012 at 9:19 AM

    A lot of comments to catch up on – and they’ve all been great. Thanks for the discussion so far.

    One interesting thing this morning related to this discussion. Like most people in the world, I drink caffeine for several reasons. It helped me get through medical school and residency. It helps me focus at work. And it helps control my mild ADD and help with concentration without resorting to many of the more artificial drugs. I don’t drink a lot of caffeine in mega-doses, but it does make a real difference in my day.

    So, this morning, I stop on the way to work and get a drink. This post was on my mind. I know that getting a small cup of black coffee would be healthier, but instead went for the standard Diet Coke in order to continue to follow the WofW. Yet in my heart, I know it is worse for my health. This can’t be great for me: carbonated water, aspartame, potassium benzoate, phosphoric acid, citric acid, caffeine, carmel color and natural flavors.

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  47. Mike S on May 18, 2012 at 9:24 AM

    #12 I Dwell In A Tent: Just because the question is asked “Do you keep the word of widsom?” it doesn’t mean a negative response will keep you from receiving a temple recommend.

    This is extremely bishop/branch president dependent. I don’t have exact numbers as they aren’t available, but I think you would be hard pressed to find a bishop/stake president combination anywhere that would give you a recommend if you told them you drank a glass of wine twice a week.

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  48. Mike S on May 18, 2012 at 9:25 AM

    #14 Will:

    I can’t tell if this comment is serious or sarcastic. Or likely a mix of both.

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  49. Mike S on May 18, 2012 at 9:35 AM

    #13 Eric: I’d like to see some emphasis on the minor sacrifice of not drinking as a benefit for the weakest among us; alcohol abuse is such a serious problem in our culture that I can see a good argument for us as a people avoiding it entirely

    This is a good point, but just to put it in perspective:

    Alcohol:
    2.7% of US population are alcoholics
    $26 billion direct medical costs
    $88 billion lost productivity
    85,000 increased deaths per year

    Obesity:
    33% of US population is obese
    $190 billion direct medical costs
    $450 billion lost productivity
    400,000 increased deaths per year

    Which is a bigger problem? And if we were rationally using a “health code” to tackle health problems, shouldn’t we be more worried about obesity using your same logic? Shouldn’t we use restrictions on temple access and other blessings to help the “weakest among us” with regards to obesity like you suggest with alcohol?

    Again, not saying we should do this, but just putting it out there for perspective.

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  50. Mike S on May 18, 2012 at 9:37 AM

    #17 Paul:

    As Paul said, it’s a simple equation.

    – Calories burned > calories consumed = Lose weight
    – Calories burned < calories consumed = Gain weight

    It is a combination of what we eat and the activity we do. It’s not that complex.

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  51. Mike S on May 18, 2012 at 9:56 AM

    #20 ji: The Word of Wisdom’s primary purpose, as originally introduced and likely still today, is neither for obedience or health. Rather, it is for protection…

    Behold, verily, thus saith the Lord unto you: In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days…

    This is a valid point, although I still think it is taught today as a “health law” or law of obedience. Manufactures absolutely DO try to maximize their profit. They manipulate food to try to make it cheap and get us to buy more. And we follow along.

    But is this “conspiring men” or merely capitalism? This is the essence of advertising, to try to entice someone to buy something that you are offering. And we even do it in the Church.

    Consider this from Bonneville International, a for-profit arm of the Church regarding HeartSell, a trademarked term:

    Our unique strength is the ability to touch the hearts and minds of our audiences, evoking first feeling, then thought and, finally, action. We call this uniquely powerful brand of creative “HeartSell”® – strategic emotional advertising that stimulates response.

    This sounds a lot like the pattern we teach missionaries to use when spreading the gospel, just used to manipulate emotions to “stimulate response”. Is this any different than what we are accusing the “conspiring men” of doing when they manipulate us into buying their products?

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  52. Mike S on May 18, 2012 at 10:02 AM

    #21 hawk and #22/23 stephen:

    Absolutely agreed that correlation doesn’t equal causation. Regarding tea, there are a number of benefits from various teas – here’s a quick summary. But claiming tea is “bad” as we do in the current interpretation of the Word of Wisdom doesn’t seem to correlate with what we see in tea-drinking societies.

    #32 Ender2k:

    Also, regarding grapes vs wine, as Ender points out, there benefits isn’t just the compounds found in grapes, but is in alcohol itself. There are actual benefits to small amounts of alcohol in our diet – ie. a drink or two a day – be it wine or beer or whatever – much like how it sounds Joseph Smith himself lived the Word of Wisdom.

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  53. Mike S on May 18, 2012 at 10:04 AM

    #24 Howard: I drank beer in moderation for many years before returning to the church, when I stopped drinking my HDL’s fell from 58 to 44 a 14 point drop! What justifies this health sacrifice?

    It’s just like I mentioned above in comment #46. I drank Diet Coke this morning (and each day) instead of coffee – not because of health, but because of obedience to our “health law”. It does seem ironic.

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  54. Mike S on May 18, 2012 at 10:05 AM

    #25 Jenkins: I guess I would like to see the church encouraging members to use wisdom to think for themselves and not just trust television, pharmaceutical companies, government, etc. to help them make good consumption decisions.

    Siempre hay esperanza…

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  55. Mike S on May 18, 2012 at 10:09 AM

    #30 ascentury: From a historical standpoint, it seems like even though many of the leadership of the church may not have been on board with Heber Grant’s teetotalitarianism (such as Stephen L Richards, David O. McKay, and Spencer W. Kimball, although the last is later), there isn’t really a way to backpedal on decisions like that.

    I think this is the crux. Look how much effort it took to overturn the Church’s policy on blacks, which may or may not have ever been a doctrine to start with, or maybe just an opinion, or whatever it was. Institutional inertia required that some leaders die before the Church could change.

    One of my favorite quotes from the McKay biography is when someone cautioned him about eating rum cake soaked in rum. He replied that the WofW just talks about drinking it but doesn’t say anything about eating it. Then he enjoyed his cake.

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  56. Mike S on May 18, 2012 at 10:11 AM

    #31 mh:

    I agree with all of these points. Our obesity is a result of pricing dynamics, food policies, and advertising. Looking forward to your follow-up post.

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  57. Mike S on May 18, 2012 at 10:14 AM

    #35 Bonnie:

    I always enjoy your thoughts and agree with this whole comment. Regarding this portion:

    If we eat fruits and vegetables in season, moderately, adding healing herbs and occasional grains, meat during the winter when we build back, we live in harmony with the rhythms of the earth. Don’t go calling me a flower child – it works. More importantly, it brings us into harmony and gratitude for all life forms, vegetative, animal, and other human, and helps us perceive a life of shared stewardship over resources.

    There is a lot to be said for this. As I’ve gone through life, I think becoming in harmony with the earth is increasingly important. And even when we do eat meat, I think it is important to remember the ultimate sacrifice that animal made to enable our sustenance.

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  58. Jon on May 18, 2012 at 10:18 AM

    I was thinking of the similarity between the WoW and getting married in the temple directly (and if you don’t you have to wait a full year). It seems like another method of control and “unrighteous dominion.”

    Lest we forget, the advice was to get married in public as given in the 1852 D&C section 109. At some point this was removed from the doctrine and covenants and there never was any revelation given to change this advice.

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  59. Mike S on May 18, 2012 at 10:19 AM

    Jon:

    Thanks for your comments and for the link. I always find Rock’s posts thought-provoking and very accurate.

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  60. Stephen M (Ethesis) on May 18, 2012 at 10:26 AM

    Howard, when you look at life outcomes rather than theory, the alcohol advantages claimed evaporate. So, I was ignoring the bad science part of the article.

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  61. ji on May 18, 2012 at 10:32 AM

    Mike S. (no. 51)–

    In my mind, the Word of Wisdom is neither for obedience or health, even though it is universally taught today as being either or both of these (I already said that). Rather, I believe our God wants us to act instead of being acted upon, and he gave us the Word of Wisdom for our protection.

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  62. Howard on May 18, 2012 at 10:40 AM

    Stephen,
    So there is nothing to wine in the Mediterranean diet?

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  63. Jon on May 18, 2012 at 10:40 AM

    I think this is the crux. Look how much effort it took to overturn the Church’s policy on blacks, which may or may not have ever been a doctrine to start with, or maybe just an opinion, or whatever it was. Institutional inertia required that some leaders die before the Church could change.

    Or look at what it took to stop polygamy. The force of the US government coming down on the mormons.

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  64. Mike S on May 18, 2012 at 10:43 AM

    #61 ji: Rather, I believe our God wants us to act instead of being acted upon, and he gave us the Word of Wisdom for our protection.

    I agree with this, that God wants us to act instead of being acted upon. I’d be interested in hearing your further thoughts on this and how it related to the WofW.

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  65. Mike S on May 18, 2012 at 10:52 AM

    #62 Howard: …So there is nothing to wine in the Mediterranean diet?

    Interestingly, note the basics of the Mediterranean diet:

    The principal aspects of this diet include high olive oil consumption, high consumption of legumes, high consumption of unrefined cereals, high consumption of fruits, high consumption of vegetables, moderate consumption of dairy products (mostly as cheese and yogurt), moderate to high consumption of fish, low consumption of meat and meat products, and moderate wine consumption.

    From an extremely well documented and investigated series on diet and China, The China Study:

    The findings? “People who ate the most animal-based foods got the most chronic disease … People who ate the most plant-based foods were the healthiest and tended to avoid chronic disease. These results could not be ignored,” said Dr. Campbell.

    There are more, but many diets have similar foundations similar to what Joseph Smith taught – sparing meat, primarily plant-based , moderate consumption of low alcohol % drinks (wine, beer), etc. And the diets generally have food in a much more natural form (which I think is a HUGE key).

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  66. Mormon Heretic on May 18, 2012 at 1:06 PM

    Jon, those were VERY interesting links. Thanks for posting! The Bob McCue article starts in 1851, while the Alexander article is the turn of the century (1900). My post on Monday will pre-date those, and I think give a different perspective on the earliest days of the Word of Wisdom.

    Mike, if wine were re-instituted as part of the sacrament, do you think that would provide any health benefits by participating weekly (while prohibiting alcohol elsewhere)?

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  67. Jon on May 18, 2012 at 2:06 PM

    MH, It will be interesting to see what you will have written for Monday. History is a daunting and messing task to unravel, even when everything is written down!

    I think both articles approached the WoW as advice to commandment starting with Brigham Young (since that is what President Grant referenced when they made it clear that they were changing it to a commandment). So, it will be interesting to read predated information than that.

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  68. Ron Madson on May 18, 2012 at 3:41 PM

    The whole concept of “gatekeepers” deciding who does or not merit saving and sealing ordinances I find antithetical to the gospel of Jesus “who employeth no servant there” and invites us to partake freely without price or restriction–only desire. But hey if it worked for the Catholics (pay for ordinances) and the Inquisitors (conform thoughts and behavior) then why not?

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  69. Ron Madson on May 18, 2012 at 3:47 PM

    I have a client that is a convert and is in primo physical condition (works out, etc.). She told me that her Gospel Essential teacher, very overweight and weezing, taught the WOW and that anyone that partook of such and such was not worthy to go to the temple. She ashamed confessed to Bishop having a half a cup of coffee, had her TR briefly suspended but the observed the inconsistency of the WOW as applied for “worthiness.” I could only say “you have discovered that we truly are a peculiar people.”

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  70. FireTag on May 18, 2012 at 7:02 PM

    I really can’t comment on many of the health aspects of this thread. Evolution has apparently decided that susceptibility to Type 1 diabetes that might allow you to live long enough to breed beats being miscarried while still in the womb, so some of us can’t handle carbs whether we’re obese or not. I’ve had to have a weird diet since I was 14 in which I’ve got to give primary attention to blood sugar levels over the next few hours — worrying about the long-term complications is always secondary, and the medical advice keeps changing as studies become more individualized and more factors come into play.

    But let me comment on the various roles the WoW plays, particularly in the RLDS tradition. I see four or five.

    Marker/symbol of obedience: Alcohol and tobacco tended to serve this role. Coffee and tea couldn’t, because we took the “hot and cold” literally, made no inference about coffee and tea, and actually SERVE them at church functions. (Alcohol in moderation is losing that function.)

    Health: Enough said in the thread above.

    Example to others: We had a debate whether encouraging homosexual marriage was moral in the last thread. Anything that could encourage life-threatening addictions in others, and that could not easily be done without (like food or affection) would fall into the same category for debate.

    Stewardship of resources: As food economies become more global (it’s always in winter or in famine somewhere), it isn’t just an issue of Americans being overweight and malnourished compared to their own optimal health, but being so WHILE many others are underweight and differently malnourished.

    Protection from conspiring men: This also goes beyond direct impacts on our health. When health or food costs rise for lots of individuals, the budgetary consequences can lead to loss of freedoms, opportunities, and geopolitical instabilities that can topple whole societies. Think how the whole Arab Spring — still growing in violence — was sparked by a food vendor who couldn’t make enough money to feed his family when food inflation hit the Arab world.

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  71. Rock Waterman on May 19, 2012 at 12:56 PM

    Mike,
    This is an excellent piece, filled with timely reminders that the Word of Wisdom contains much more of importance than the commonly believed Big Four restrictions.

    I had always assumed that all of my fellow Saints had actually read section 89 and were at least familiar with it first hand, but over the years I have learned that a great many know only what they have been told about it.

    Thus a majority of Mormons don’t know anything about its recommendations as to the good things we should be taking into our bodies, and I believe, as some of the early prophets did, that those verses are more important than the ones outlining the few restrictions.

    I do wonder about your willingness to accept the popularly preached sections of the Word of Wisdom for the reason that, as you say, those are the common markers as to what it means to be a Mormon today. I’m inclined to the view that such thinking is contributing to our current downward spiral.

    The Church’s official stance, as you quote, “The Things we do and don’t consume are some of the most visible markers of our faith” seems to me to represent the most palpable manifestation as to why this Church has been moving in a more Pharisaical direction.

    We seem much more concerned with demonstrating these petty outward “signs” of devotion to our religion than in radiating the light of Christ from within.

    Thus we end up with a religion that requires strict obedience to “commandments” that never were, while ignoring God’s real commandments, such as our penchant for happily supporting the killing of people in distant lands which God has prohibited in no uncertain terms (D&C 98:33).

    Reader Jon above has mentioned that yesterday I made some similar points as you brought up here at my own blog (http://PureMormonism.blogspot.com ), but I think it’s also worth noting that in a previous piece I showed how it was that we have been fooled into believing the Word of Wisdom had been turned into a commandment through Brigham Young when nothing of the kind ever took place.

    I’ll bet there are more myths and Urban Legends surrounding the Word of Wisdom than just about anything else in all of Mormondom.

    http://puremormonism.blogspot.com/2009/06/too-bad-i-dont-like-beer.html

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  72. LDS Anarchist on May 19, 2012 at 3:13 PM

    Are health studies meaningless to the Word of Wisdom?

    Yes.

    Should the Word of Wisdom be a suggestion as revealed to Joseph Smith in our canonized scripture, or should it be a requirement as interpreted by other Church leaders?

    Suggestion.

    Someday, we are told that we will drink wine with Christ (D&C 27:5 – where he said “for the hour cometh that I will drink of the fruit of the vine with you on the earth, and with Moroni…”. Wouldn’t it be strange if no Mormons would drink with Him because they “weren’t supposed to drink wine”?

    I’ll drink with Him, if I live long enough and am invited to partake. I’m certain there will be other willing Mormons, too. Heck, I drink wine now (as do other Mormons), so I wouldn’t be too worried about that day, if I were you.

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  73. whizzbang on May 19, 2012 at 5:39 PM

    A phrase that is ignored even by some holier then thou liberal Mormons is this phrase found in verse 4- “In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days”
    what do you think of this statement?

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  74. Mike S on May 19, 2012 at 6:12 PM

    #73 wizzbang:

    See comment #51.

    And what is a “holier than thou liberal Mormon”?

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  75. whizzbang on May 19, 2012 at 6:30 PM

    @74-oh! The John Dehlin’s of the world. They think the Church is going to hell, know the “real deal” and patronize you-FYI John Dehlin doesn’t necessarily fit this criteria but, trying to mold the Church to fit their own image and not trying to have Christ in their image.

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  76. Roy on May 19, 2012 at 6:53 PM

    @whizzbang, ignoring the negativity, you raise and interesting point about evils and designs. Your point does not refute the above article, but instead strengthens it. The Word of Wisdom is clearly about balance and moderation in diet. You only have to look at the food industry now and its advertising to see all kinds of inducements to overindulge on un-nutritious and fattening food, to overindulge on alcohol, on meat, etc.

    So unfortunately it’s not our current interpretation that protects us from the “evils and designs”, it is the original revelation that guides us to do so.

    Roy

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  77. whizzbang on May 19, 2012 at 6:59 PM

    @76-Too true,thank you! I wasn’t trying to refute anything just wondering what that phrase meant

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  78. ji on May 19, 2012 at 7:23 PM

    Mike (no. 64) — I believe God gave us the Word of Wisdom as a protection to us, and so that we could act instead of being acted upon — not as an obedience test or as a health law. God knew there were and are conspiring men in the world, and the Word of Wisdom protects us in some measure from some of those men. Because of the Word of Wisdom, I don’t become addicted to tobacco or booze, and I’m more in balance, and I am able to have a more mature relationship with God. This is said very simply, but I hope it helps point out my thoughts.

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  79. Mike S on May 19, 2012 at 10:46 PM

    #78: ji:

    I, too, believe there are conspiring men in the world, but I don’t know that the Word of Wisdom does much for me in that regard. Realistically, there are conspiring men in so many areas of today’s life – from bankers to fast food restaurants to politicians to whatever, that tobacco and alcohol represent less than 0.01% of what I am worried about.

    At the same time, I also respect the fact that for some people, as you imply, the strict not-a-drop prohibition we currently follow helps them stay away from these areas. It has side effects for others, but I see your point.

    I still argue that the Word of Wisdom is primarily promoted as a law of health in our church.

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  80. Mike S on May 19, 2012 at 10:52 PM

    whizzbang: holier then thou liberal Mormons … trying to mold the Church to fit their own image

    I would argue that, just like in politics, there are people on both extremes of the spectrum who fit this description. For every “liberal” person who might be intolerant of a more orthodox member, there is a more “conservative” person who is intolerant of someone who doesn’t think like them.

    For everything written by someone like John Dehlin (as you suggest) who might be trying to “mold the church to fit their own image” (a characterization with which I don’t necessarily agree), there are books like Mormon Doctrine on the other extreme that try to mold the church to fit a person’s individual opinion – even if it is wrong as well. And I would also argue that books like Mormon Doctrine have done a bigger job of molding the church to fit one individual’s image than everything that has been written on all blogs for the past few years.

    So, it goes both ways. Luckily, Wheat & Tares is hopefully a place where people can meet in the middle and discuss things without the rhetoric of the extremes. Whether it succeeds or not is a different story, but it’s a hope.

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  81. Mike S on May 19, 2012 at 10:54 PM

    #76 Roy: So unfortunately it’s not our current interpretation that protects us from the “evils and designs”, it is the original revelation that guides us to do so.

    As I thought about this and wrote the original post, this is absolutely true. The Word of Wisdom as written by and lived by Joseph Smith correlates much better with good health practices than the interpretation we follow today – which serves more as a filter to keep people in/out of the temple/callings/etc.

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  82. Mike S on May 19, 2012 at 11:06 PM

    #71: Rock

    Thanks for stopping by. I’m always impressed by your posts and the obvious time you put into them. Whether I agree with them all the time or not is a different story, but you are gifted in your thought processes, understanding and writing. Thank you.

    Regarding this point:

    I do wonder about your willingness to accept the popularly preached sections of the Word of Wisdom for the reason that, as you say, those are the common markers as to what it means to be a Mormon today. I’m inclined to the view that such thinking is contributing to our current downward spiral.

    I absolutely agree. I still follow the Word of Wisdom as currently interpreted. As I and other people have mentioned above, there are aspects of it which I feel are actually counterproductive. I feel a cup of coffee or tea would be better for me than Diet Coke. I see absolutely nothing wrong with a glass of red wine – either for health reasons NOR in the eyes of God as an eternal principle.

    Perhaps I am weak or hypocritical for following these restrictions, even though I feel the way I do. Yet I still do it for several reasons:

    1) I choose to still be an active member of the LDS Church. I choose to have callings, have a temple recommend, etc. If these are the current requirements, so be it.

    2) I think about and write about things that might not be “mainstream” LDS thoughts. It is interesting to me to explore things beyond the standard talks we hear on Sunday. And it is my nature to question assumptions. Many times they are proven to be correct, but sometimes they are not.

    This does make some people uncomfortable. Some may even accuse me of being “against” the Church, which is far, far from reality. So, if I’m going to write things like this, I don’t want anyone to say it’s because I want to “sin” or whatever.

    3) And finally, and likely the most futile, is that I think it is important. I think these are important things to talk about. And I feel I have more credibility talking about these things as a fully-active and practicing member of the Church than someone who’s not. I hope that, perhaps, someone, somewhere in Church leadership might listen to the voices of people like me and many others and, if even for a moment, say, hmmmm, maybe he has a point.

    But at the same time, people like me going along with things with which I don’t agree DO contribute to the “downward spiral” you mention. We do give credence to the bureaucracy. We perpetuate the drift away from inward spirituality and toward outward conformity, which seems to be prized above other things. I don’t know the perfect reconciliation.

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  83. Mike S on May 19, 2012 at 11:11 PM

    #69: Ron: I have a client that is a convert and is in primo physical condition (works out, etc.). She told me that her Gospel Essential teacher, very overweight and weezing, taught the WOW and that anyone that partook of such and such was not worthy to go to the temple. She ashamed confessed to Bishop having a half a cup of coffee, had her TR briefly suspended but the observed the inconsistency of the WOW as applied for “worthiness.” I could only say “you have discovered that we truly are a peculiar people.”

    Perfect example of my point. It shows how twisted our thinking has become with regards to the Word of Wisdom and health. It is an example of the check-box nature of our religion.

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  84. Bonnie on May 19, 2012 at 11:23 PM

    Mike, this was an enjoyable discussion. Naturally (har har) I feel the need to talk to you about what the soda is doing to your calcium and this future of osteoporosis, the terrible effect on your kidneys, and the ASPARTAME (thunder sound effects.) This is not good for your adrenals, this caffeine. WOW or not, we need to get you a nice herbal tea for the morning commute.

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  85. Mike S on May 19, 2012 at 11:47 PM

    #84 Bonnie:

    I absolutely agree. I know soda is terrible for me. But at the same time, I do need some caffeine to function (not a lot, but it makes a big difference in concentration for me).

    My favorite current compromise: mate. Now that I don’t have to use a bombilla and gourd but can use my french press or even tea bags, much easier. It’s just not as ubiquitous as other ways of getting caffeine, so I still default to soda.

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  86. Bonnie on May 19, 2012 at 11:58 PM

    Mike – I suggest 65% cacao. Chocolate makes me HAPPY, and, as long as I don’t get too much, manages that bi-polar ADD pretty well. Too much, and the wicked witch comes out to play. Serious medicine, that cacao. And think of all those antioxidants …

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  87. [...] note that I think in some cases, these early saints were MORE strict than our modern standard.  Mike at Wheat and Tares discussed the Word of Wisdom last Thursday, and I want to point out some things he said.  Mike said, Is the Word of Wisdom inherently an [...]

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  88. Douglas on May 20, 2012 at 5:05 PM

    It’s not that linking the WoW and obesity isn’t germane, but to ridicule the observance of the WoW on the part of Church members while pointing out their other frequent health foibles (obesity, improper nutrition, lack of exercise, etc.) is a combination of two logical fallacies – the “et tu” argument, and a strawman. The original WoW was just that, so nearly two hundred of years of experience both inside and outside the Church upholds its principles. But it still was just a “suggestion” at the time, hence its name. Once observance of the “forbidden items” became a COMMANDMENT, effective about 1922, there should have been something, whether a new D&C, an Official Declaration, or even some policy letter issued that documented same. Would have saved a lot of useless debate! Really, do the leaders need little old me, with my thirty-some years of bureaucratic experience slavin’ away for Uncle Sam, to tell them the fundamentals of PR?

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  89. hawkgrrrl on May 20, 2012 at 6:53 PM

    Mike S – “My favorite current compromise: mate” Ha! When I read this, at first I thought you were saying that when you want a coffee you have sex instead.

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  90. Jon on May 20, 2012 at 7:43 PM

    Douglas,

    Read those two papers I posted, that will explain how the WoW became a “commandment” not by revelation, but by tradition. Hmm, we’ll have to watch “Fiddler on the Roof” now.

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  91. Douglas on May 20, 2012 at 10:40 PM

    #90 – Jon, we’re talking past each other while making essentially the same point. I have no problem with CURRENT guidance (re: revelation), which is that abstinence from coffee (‘caf in the Star Wars Universe), tea, alcoholic beverages (at least as defined by the ATF), tobacco products, and ‘harmful’ drug use (no distinction made between illegal substances, legal ones, and those legal if properly prescribed). Everything else, be it soda pop, chocolate, energy drinks, ‘too much’ meat, white flour, etc., results from the useless game of holier-than-thouism that we play with each other. There are times I get so frustrated with discussions about these “finer points”, and instead would blurt out, “I would, my fine BRETHREN, that you give a rat’s hiney about meeting the needs of your family members, then your brothers and sisters in general as much as you want to make yourself look good in the eyes of “Gawd” and everyone else!!!!”.
    After all, notwithstanding keeping commandments, which I don’t shy away from in the least, it’s what preceeds OUT of a man’s mouth that defiles him (as the Savior himself declared), and NOT necessarily what he takes in, as our esteemed Elder Packer wrote in the “Uniform System for Teaching Families” (1973), in the WoW lesson.

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  92. [...] note that I think in some cases, these early saints were MORE strict than our modern standard.  Mike at Wheat and Tares discussed the Word of Wisdom last Thursday, and I want to point out some things he said.  Mike said, Is the Word of Wisdom inherently an [...]

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  93. Mike S on May 21, 2012 at 10:40 AM

    #86 Bonnie / #89 Hawk:

    That’s not a bad was to interpret it.

    “Double Dark Chocolate Mate” by The Republic of Tea is delicious – organic roasted carob, organic roasted Yerba Mate, organic dark chocolate, organic natural cocoa, natural concentrated cocoa powder, organic natural chocolate extract, and organic chicory.

    Full of anti-oxidants. Great tasting. And 100mg of caffeine (a bit much, but works on a really bad day). And meets WofW criteria of no coffee or black tea from Camellia sinensis plant. :-)

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