Two of the most misunderstood things in the Church are prayer, and the Word of Wisdom. I briefly covered what Saints get wrong about prayer in a previous blog, but I will write a more comprehensive article on prayer in the near future. Today, I am focusing on some aspects of the Word of Wisdom, and how it is misunderstood today.
I just want to state that I am not encouraging anybody to drink beer or partake in anything that is contradictory to the current Temple Recommend worthiness. I don’t condone beer today for example, as it has a much higher alcohol content than it did in the 1800’s, but I also do not think anybody has broken the Word of Wisdom if they have consumed the occasional beer. And just to clarify, no, I do not partake in any alcoholic beverages myself, and neither do any of my immediate family.
The Word of Wisdom was laid out through Revelation from the Prophet Joseph Smith in 1833, and is found in the Doctrine and Covenants Section 89. But, we have to remember that the scriptures have to be read in the context of the times they were written in. We cannot read the scriptures through modern eyes, as we will totally misunderstand them, and misinterpret them, and that is exactly what has happened in regards to the Word of Wisdom. That is why it’s essential to read the scriptures prayerfully, so that the spirit can help us to understand exactly what is being taught. When we read D&C Section 89, we have to read it in its cultural context, as the way people looked at the things described within that passage of scripture were very different from the way we look at those things today. Sadly the Word of Wisdom of today is much harsher than the one that was revealed to Joseph Smith, and a lot of un-Christlike judgments are placed on people who don’t fully follow today’s version of the Word of Wisdom.
Lets start by talking about what the Word of Wisdom means by “strong drinks,” which has been sorely misinterpreted by the majority of Saints of today. During the time when Joseph Smith was given the Word of Wisdom from God, America was facing a huge crisis, which was drunkenness, and severe alcoholism was strife throughout the land, and the sales of distilled drinks, mainly whiskey had risen to an extreme high, and yes, it was a major national security issue. Anybody who has the slightest knowledge about Mormon history knows that what Joseph Smith meant in regards to strong drinks, was distilled spirits. Strong Drinks doesn’t mean wine, or beer for example, as they’re not distilled alcoholic drinks. Wine, is prohibited in the Word of Wisdom, unless it be for sacrament only. The word sacrament didn’t just refer to the holy sacrament in 1800’s America, but it also referred to marriage, and wine was often consumed (only a glass to toast or to celebrate) at Latter-day Saint weddings, with cake and other foods. Wine was also used as part of the dedication ceremony of the Kirtland Temple, and the Saints used red current wine, which was provided by the Whitney family, from their vineyard. Mild Barley drinks are also good for the body. Mild barley drinks means beer, and in the 1800’s many Saints used to drink the occasional mild beer. Even the Danish General Authorities used to drink mild Danish beer right up until the mid-twentieth-century, when Heber J. Grant put a stop to it.
There are three phases of evolution of the Word of Wisdom. The first phase (which sadly no one really pays much attention to) is the purest form, the Revelation that was given to Joseph Smith in 1833, Brigham Young’s version of the Word of Wisdom, and pretty much the one we have today, the Heber J. Grant version. Now, much of the misunderstandings also come from Brigham Young’s. The reason why Brigham Young, in a sense, rewrote the Word of Wisdom, was due to the fact that when the Saints settled in Salt Lake, money was incredibly scarce, so to preserve and save money, Brigham Young commanded the Saints to stop buying imported and luxury goods. Two of the most expensive goods at the time was tea and coffee, so Brigham didn’t want the Saints to buy such expensive items, and that is how tea and coffee was incorporated into the Word of Wisdom we have today as meaning hot drinks. The Saints used to consume tea and coffee (once the temperatures had cooled) in moderation. Hot Drinks is purely about the temperature of the drinks, not the content (tea and coffee), and I firmly believe that if iced drinks were around in Joseph Smiths day then iced drinks would also be prohibited, as both hot drinks and iced drinks take you out of balance, so drinks should be drank at room temperature. Saints who drink hot chocolate for example, are not following the Word of Wisdom fully, as it states in D&C 89: “And again, hot drinks are not for the body or belly.” We know today that tea has an immense amount of health benefits, and even coffee can be healthy if consumed in moderation. One of the biggest misunderstandings about the word of Wisdom today is caffeine. Nowhere in the Word of Wisdom does it mention anything about caffeine. If it was about caffeine, then chocolate would be prohibited also. I know members who refuse to drink Cola and other Caffeinated drinks, but will happily consume decaffeinated coffee for example, which is a totally wrong interpretation of the Word of Wisdom. Caffeine in moderation has health benefits, such as it helps reduce migraines, and I believe it is used on newborn babies who have irregular heartbeats (if any of my readers has any medical knowledge, it would be great if you could elaborate more on that in the comment section). Again, I’m not encouraging anybody to go out and drink coffee, as I believe there is a problem with coffee addiction in today’s society, and that’s why the Church warns us against coffee. Tobacco is prohibited to consume in the Word of Wisdom, however if you know what you’re doing it is permitted to be used to clean and help heal wounds by placing tobacco in a bandage then wrapping it over the wound, and for sick cattle.
A basic way to describe the word of wisdom would be that it is the opposite of gluttony. The Word of Wisdom is about temperance, and being balanced. Drunkenness, smoking, drug abuse, over eating, over drinking (even over-drinking water can be extremely dangerous, as it can lower your sodium levels), sleeping late etc etc, takes you way out of balance, and leads to addictions, which is then a sin, as it has taken you away from the spirit. The Word of Wisdom is all about precisely that, wisdom. If we use our wisdom, then we can each find a perfect (or near perfect) balance that best suites us, and helps us remain worthy enough to enter the Temple, and partake in the ordinances of exaltation, as the Doctrine and Covenants is all scripture that is for our exaltation.
So we have discussed how alcohol is not actually prohibited in the Word of Wisdom, getting drunk and consuming distilled spirits are, you might be thinking, then what else is alcohol used for? If we are referring to the pure and original Word of Wisdom, as laid out in the D&C, then we know that strong drinks (distilled spirits) are permitted to be used for ritual cleansing. During the Kirtland Temple period, the Saints used to perform ritual cleansing either in one of the classrooms of the Temple, or at Joseph Smiths home, by pouring cinnamon whiskey and perfumed water over themselves, changing into clean clothes, and then entering the holy Temple to be anointed. We know that Joseph Smith received much revelation and many changes through revelation were made regarding temple worship and how the ordinances were performed, but I do not want to focus on that, as this article is about the Word of Wisdom, but I will say that I believe the changes in the Temple in regards to how the ordinances are performed came about because God moves with the times, and he knew that Temples were soon to be spread throughout the world, so he made the ordinances less time consuming and burdensome.
I just wanted to finish off by quickly talking about Coke, and red meats. When we consume red meats it stimulates the body, and too much red meat throws us out of balance, so red meats should only be consumed in the winter, as it helps warm the body, and in times of famine. There is a huge problem with Church members overindulging on meats throughout the world. At most Church events you will see a huge abundance of meats being used for the events food.
Now quickly going back to Coke and caffeinated beverages. David O’McKay was a very big fan of Pepsi, so what does that tell us?