Tell It Like It Is

The student-run daily newspaper for Ohio University, The Post, recently ran an article titled, “Being Mormon in College”. In addition to interviewing a Mormon student for the article, journalist Amanda Wilcosky also spoke to the LDS missionaries on campus:

The missionaries said the founder of the religion and prophet Joseph Smith received a revelation from God in 1833 called the Word of Wisdom. In this vision, God warned Smith about certain substances that were deemed to be unhealthful. At the time, little evidence existed to support his claim, but [LDS missionaries] Wat and Patterson said that current knowledge about the dangerous effects of these substances helps to justify Smith’s revelation.

Although a law in the Book of Mormon advises that followers do not consume or use certain items, the church does not utilize threats or guilt to ensure obedience, the missionaries said.

“The church does not take away one’s agency to choose,” Patterson stressed. “They are all just recommendations that can bring more happiness in our lives.”

First of all, the Word of Wisdom came from Joseph Smith’s lips at a time when the temperance movement was sweeping across America.

As early as 1784 Dr. Benjamin Rush argued that excessive use of alcohol was bad for people, both physically and psychologically. This resulted in 200 farmers forming a temperance association a few years later in Connecticut. Another temperance association was formed in Virginia in 1800, and another in New York in 1809. By 1834 there were 5,000 temperance societies in the United States.

Tobacco was believed to be a “nerve-prostrating, soul paralyzing drug, a fleshly, ungodly lust.” Coffee and tea were considered “as bad as toddy-guzzling” and the Journal of Health (published between 1829 and 1835) recommended a vegetarian diet or a sparing use of meat for good health (see Fawn Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 166).

I’m sure the LDS missionaries are unaware of these historical facts; nevertheless, it’s a deplorable thing to tell people that the then unknown, but currently understood, dangerous effects of these substances is evidence in support of the idea that Joseph Smith was a true prophet — when it isn’t.

Furthermore, LDS missionary Elder Patterson said that the Word of Wisdom is nothing more than a “recommendation” which, if followed, will bring happiness to peoples’ lives. When was this commandment downgraded to a mere suggestion? True, the revelation was not originally understood to be a commandment, but according to LDS President Ezra Taft Benson:

In 1851, President Brigham Young proposed to the general conference of the Church that all Saints formally covenant to keep the Word of Wisdom. This proposal was unanimously upheld by the membership of the Church. Since that day, the revelation has been a binding commandment on all Church members. (“A Principle with a Promise”, Ensign, May 1983, 53)

And what about the missionaries’ reported statement that the Church doesn’t utilize threats or guilt to elicit obedience to the Word of Wisdom? LDS Apostle Boyd Packer said:

The Word of Wisdom put restrictions on members of the Church. To this day those regulations apply to every member and to everyone who seeks to join the Church. They are so compelling that no one is to be baptized into the Church without first agreeing to live by them. No one will be called to teach or to lead unless they accept them. When you want to go to the temple, you will be asked if you keep the Word of Wisdom. If you do not, you cannot go to the house of the Lord until you are fully worthy. (“The Word of Wisdom: The Principle and the Promises,” Ensign, May 1996, 17)

Just a friendly suggestion. No threats or guilt.

  • Obey the Word of Wisdom or you will not be allowed to join the Church.
  • Obey the Word of Wisdom or you will not be allowed to lead in the Church.
  • Obey the Word of Wisdom or you will not be allowed to go to the temple.
  • Obey the Word of Wisdom or you are not “fully worthy.”
  • Obey the Word of Wisdom or else.

Don’t get me wrong. The LDS Church certainly has the right — and the responsibility — to require certain things from its members. What bothers me is the way the missionaries — official representatives of the LDS Church — didn’t own up to the Church’s true teachings and requirements on this. If they weren’t prepared to tell the truth about it, why say anything at all?

Maybe I’m making too much of this. Perhaps the 9th commandment has also been downgraded to a suggestion.

About Sharon Lindbloom

Sharon surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. Deeply passionate about Truth, Sharon loves serving as a full-time volunteer research associate with Mormonism Research Ministry. Sharon and her husband live in Minnesota.
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6 Responses to Tell It Like It Is

  1. Ginger says:

    Even though there were groups who believed that alcohol, tobacco and coffee & tea were bad for people in the 1800’s, until recently there was no SCIENTIFIC evidence. That’s what most LDS refer to when they state that the effects of those substances were unknown at the time. Also, how many people in the 1800’s were actually reading these statements and articles to which you refer?

    No one is strong-armed into following the Word of Wisdom. If I want to teach Sunday School, or go to the temple, or get baptized, I have to follow the Word of Wisdom. The choice is mine.

    I’ve mentioned before that I smoke and drink coffee. Does that mean that I can’t attend church? No! Do the members of my ward shun me publicly because I smell like smoke? Hardly! I get a lot of encouragement from my LDS brothers and sisters (not the nagging I get from my mother), but not a bit of coersion.

    This topic is a little confusing to me. “It’s a suggestion, no a commandment, no a suggestion….” It’s been debated so much that one would think the Nicean Council had been reconvened and decided to bring up the issue. 😉

  2. rick b says:

    Ginger, Here are some problems I have with the Word of Wisdom. Also tell me if you were awrae of these things I post and if so, why do you fell the Church said these things but them seems not to “enforce” them in cases like your.

    LDS President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote,

    “SALVATION AND A CUP OF TEA. You cannot neglect little things. ‘Oh, a cup of tea is such a little thing. It is so little; surely it doesn’t amount to much; surely the Lord will forgive me if I drink a cup of tea.’ …if you drink coffee or tea, or take tobacco, are you letting a cup of tea or a little tobacco stand inn the road and bar you from the celestial kingdom of God, where you might otherwise have received a fullness of glory?” (Doctrines of Salvation 2:16)

    The Prophet Spencer Kimball Achieving a Celestial Marriage manual pg 30 makes it very clear we must do certain things to enter the temple to be saved. he gives a list of 6 things called (TEMPLE RECOMMEND INTERVIEW). it says When you are interviewed for a temple recommend you will be asked about,
    1. Church attendance
    2. Payment of tithes and offerings
    3. Loyalty to Church leaders.
    4. Moral cleanliness.
    5. overall faithfulness and worthiness.
    6. Obedience to the Word of Wisdom.

    Notice it says “Obedience to the Word of Wisdom.” Yet Many LDS members do not follow this. Also we read in Gospel Principles pg 125: WE MUST KEEP THE COMMANDMENTS OF GOD. To make our repentance complete we must keep the commandments of the Lord (see D and C 1:32). we are not fully repentant if we do not pay tithes or keep the sabbath day holy or obey the word of wisdom. we are not repentant if we don’t sustain the authorities of the church and don’t love the lord and our fellow man. Yet again many LDS do not meet this requirement.

    Now read,
    Mat 19:17 And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? [there is] none good but one, [that is], God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.

    Mat 19:18 He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness,

    Mat 19:19 Honour thy father and [thy] mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

    Mat 19:20 The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?

    Mat 19:21 Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go [and] sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come [and] follow me.

    My point on these verses is this, Jesus told this person, this is a commandment, But it is also scripture. If the WoW was really from God, then this was the perfect time for Jesus to state the Word of Wisdom. He could clear up all confusion. If God in Mormon circles is really and truly all knowing and powerful, I would think he would see the confusion to come down the road over the WoW issue and avoid it right here and Now. But Jesus did not, He never brought up any such thing.

    Read Acts 10:9-15, God gave peter a vision stating to kill animals and eat. not once did God say, kill only certain animals or eat them sparingly. God did state all things are clean. Then read Acts 15:24-29 the short of it, is on food, no mention of coffee, tea, alcohol. they state, stay away from things strangled with blood, Not coffee, tea or certain meats. What better time than that to really put forth the WoW if it was really of God.

    We know Jesus drank wine, we know it contained some alcohol because he was accused of being a drunk, (Winebibber). It you only drink grape juice you cannot be called a wine bibber. Jesus also gave the parables of the wine skins, He said you don’t put new wine into old wine skins lest they burst, Notice He said, they would burst. Why would they burst, if it was simply Grape juice? Jesus also said, food and drink are for the body, we can eat whatever we want with thanksgiving. How can God teach and say this, but then later turn around and deny everything he taught, with no reason given?

    Jesus told his disciples, It is not what goes in a man that defiles him, but what comes out of him. I enjoy coffee, I find it truly sad, if I were a Mormon I could lose out on exaltation in the 3rd heaven because I must obey a command of man that is not of God, yet this command of man cannot be explain by the group that made it.

    I think it is sad, that Hot drinks does not include Hot Chocolate, or Soup broth. Sad that this needs to be pointed out, but Hot drinks does not say, Coffee or tea. It is just assumed. If the “Real” Reason is caffeine, why cant I simply drink decafe or cold tea or iced coffee? I know that is still a no-no but to me it is more self imposed legalism, and some people saying look how righteous I am by what I am doing. Rick b

  3. Arthur Sido says:


    The issue is that the dietary codes, temple worship, prophets, etc are all Old Testament precursors of the coming Christ. To go back to these things is to make null and void the cross of Christ. We don’t need a temple today to sacrifice animals because the ultimate and final sacrifice has been accomplished, negating the need for a temple. The dietary codes that separated Jews from the pagan nations around them has been done away with as Christ provided salvation for people of all ethnicities and nations. The prophets prophesied about the revelations of God and the coming Christ. Those prophetic utterances were fulfilled in the incarnation. We don’t need prophets to give us more words from God when He has provided us the Living Word, Jesus Christ.

    You can keep your coffee and cigarettes (although I would encourage you to quit smoking!) and still be saved. Put your faith in Christ, and Him alone, and you will be saved, your sins atoned for and your salvation assured.


  4. Keith Walker says:

    What is confusing about this issue? You either obey the Word of wisdom or you do not get to enter the temple and hence the presence of God. That seems pretty straight forward to me.

  5. Ginger says:

    WOW! I wish I had been back sooner!

    rick b said: “why do you fell the Church said these things but them seems not to “enforce” them in cases like your”

    Oh, trust me Rick, the rules are enforced! I don’t hold a temple recommend. I don’t teach Sunday School. But I’m not shunned or excommunicated for it. There is yet hope for me among my neighbors (I say neighbors, but my small ward is spread out over the entire county). Like I said, the choice is mine.

    Keith, I’m not confused about the rules, just the debate.

    Arthur, I’ve not been, but I’m sure that there are no animal sacrifices in the LDS temples.

  6. Arthur Sido says:


    >Arthur, I’ve not been, but I’m sure that there are no animal sacrifices in the LDS temples.< Uh, right but that isn’t the point. The point is that there is no need for a temple today precisely BEACUSE there is no need for animal sacrifice. You ought to give up the coffee and smoking so you can go to the temple and see what goes in there. I can assure you it will change your opinion of mormonism.

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