Last week, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints made headlines for clarifying parts of its health code, the Word of Wisdom. Cold tea is still tea — and discouraged, Church leaders stated. Drinks ending in “-ccino” are coffee drinks; thus, members are asked not to drink them, either. Vaping is also prohibited. Frankly, it’s hard for me to believe any of the clarifications were news for any practicing Church member. The publicized information is less of an update and more of a reminder.
Some people are quick to chafe against details of the Word of Wisdom (“But green tea has health benefits!” “Science says drinking a glass of red wine is good for you!” “But I really, really like coffee!”) and while I never enjoy nit-picking or fussing, I get it. A lot of Mormon guidelines seem totally arbitrary. Why don’t we have coffee or tea? Is it the caffeine? (No. There is no official church policy related to caffeine consumption) Is it the temperature? (Nope — hot chocolate is fair game, but iced tea is not.)
Meanwhile, hypocrisy abounds. Why are church members so careful to avoid alcohol and coffee consumption, but soda drinking — which has exactly zero health benefits — is a common and accepted habit? It’s obvious all the trendy new soda shops in Utah are really Starbucks for Latter-day Saints. I suppose if we can’t have Frappuccinos or mixed drinks, we can at least enjoy a teen “barista” mixing up a Drama Queen (Mountain Dew with fruity syrups).
Despite the fact the Word of Wisdom is meant to be an overall health code to help church members respect and care for their bodies as temples to house their spirits, few folks focus on the counsel to eat more seasonal fruits and vegetables. Maybe it’s easier to adhere to the “do not” parts of the counsel than the proactive parts that ask us to truly live the spirit of the law more than the letter of the law. Sugar is yummy — of this I can truly testify — but it is unhealthy. I’m being a Word of Wisdom pharisee if I self-righteously abstain from tea while letting cookies become my drug of choice. We’d all be better off avoiding unhealthy and addictive substances, no matter how mainstream.
When it comes down to it, I doubt God is tracking everyone’s coffee consumption, or that a cup of tea is the deciding factor in anyone’s salvation. No, I choose to turn that all over to Christ.
In my old age, I am no longer interested in speculating about the various reasons the Word of Wisdom forbids various substances. For me, adhering to that code is simply another way for me to show willingness to be obedient, and keep me mindful of my decision to live my faith in loving ways. The New Testament counsels disciples of Christ to be “a peculiar people.” Studying a menu carefully to find a non-coffee beverage to enjoy with friends makes me peculiar in a quiet way, and gives me a private nudge to find ways to serve others.
Many years ago, the peculiarity of the Word of Wisdom made me more awkward than righteous. When I was about 13, a friend and I attempted to prepare a delicious dinner of shrimp and pasta in a delicate cream sauce. The recipe called for “dry white wine.”
“How could wine possibly be dry?,” I wondered aloud. Wine was a liquid, and most definitely wet. My friend had overheard drinking adults discussing wine enough to know it could indeed be “dry,” and assured me I was ridiculously unsophisticated.
In college, when I was a manager at a Brigham City pizza restaurant, some customers ordered coffee. I headed back to the kitchen with a sense of apprehension. Sure enough, my only co-worker that day was also a practicing member of the church who grew up with nothing stronger than Sprite. We stood together and stared at the coffee maker, trying to figure out how to turn the ground-up beans and hot water into a palatable beverage for the nice couple at Table 12.
Eventually, I sheepishly brought them mugs of a hot, brown liquid I am sure did not qualify as actual coffee, served it with apologies, and did not charge them for their meal.
All the recent Word of Wisdom-related updates are merely reminders, not changes, to guidelines church members have been asked to follow for many years. There is still some room for personal interpretation, but may good manners and thoughtful choices abound. The spirit of the law to treat our bodies with respect so we can show gratitude to God and serve others is as clear as ever.